Flu season is approaching; here’s what you need to know
This year’s flu season is just getting started. And experts in Southern California are already beginning to worry.
Last year was the worst flu season in more than a decade. There were 164 flu-related deaths last year in California, compared to 81 deaths the year before.
The situation became so dire that some Southern California hospitals opened up flu triage tents in their parking lots to serve the high volume of patients.
The dominant strain last year was Influenza A H3N2, which wasn’t new. But it is often associated with severe illness in young children and those 65 and older.
This year, things have been quiet on the flu front nationally and internationally, said Dr. Matt Zahn, medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency.
“That makes it difficult to predict what kind of a year this is going to be,” he said. “Last year, Australia and the Southern Hemisphere had an early flu season, which provided some hints on what we could expect. But this year, there is no such activity.”
Last year’s flu season was severe and affected people regardless of age, Zahn said.
The best precaution people can take this year is to get the flu vaccine, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that individuals get vaccinated by the end of October, Zahn said.
“There’s no such thing as getting vaccinated too soon,” he said. “If you haven’t got the vaccine, now is the time to get it. We all get caught waiting for the next pandemic.”
He added that it is simply not possible to get the flu from the flu vaccine.
“The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine, which means it has pieces of the virus, not intact virus,” Zahn said. “You may have arm pain after a flu shot or mild symptoms. But, the shot itself cannot give you the flu.”
In the United States, the flu season typically occurs between October and May. The influenza virus has the ability to evolve.
But there is usually sufficient similarity in the virus from one year to the next that the vaccine is able to immunize people at least partially.
Some of the common signs of the flu include sudden fever, chills, muscle aches or pain, headache, fever, cough, sore throat, dehydration, vomiting and abdominal pain. The virus is transmitted by being near someone who is sick, and is coughing or sneezing.
People may become infected by touching surfaces that an infected person has touched or may have sneezed or coughed on.
Vaccinations may be obtained through employers, if they provide them, county health clinics, and pharmacies. Wholesalers such as Costco and Sam’s Club also provide relatively cheaper flu shots.
Locate vaccination services near you at vaccinefinder.org.